ShareThis Page

Reporter shares personal flesh-eating bacteria story with South Allegheny students

| Thursday, April 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Daily News staff writer Michael DiVittorio shows photos of his treatments for necrotizing fasciitis to South Allegheny honors biology students Erika Caldro, Arianna Bracco and Max Marraccini.

South Allegheny honors biology students were fascinated — and a little grossed out — to expand on their bacteria lesson by reliving a local reporter's experience with flesh-eating disease.

Daily News reporter Michael DiVittorio shared photos and gory details of his 2012 diagnosis and treatment of necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissue.

“I feel 100 percent blessed,” DiVittorio said of his recovery from the deadly condition. “I don't know where I picked this up, and that will haunt me forever. You can have any type of bacteria on you at any time, and it won't affect you until there's an opening.”

Building on lessons in bacterial growth and transmission in Joy Wyler's honors biology class for high school freshmen and sophomores, DiVittorio told students he felt symptoms within hours of a routine surgical procedure to correct an ingrown toenail. He completed a full day's work after an outpatient visit and went home to sleep off what he assumed were flu-like symptoms.

After noticing swelling and red patches on his skin, DiVittorio drove himself to the emergency room, where nurses, doctors and specialists were baffled.

“They drew a map on my leg to cover where the redness was,” he recalled. “They checked on me every five minutes, and the redness kept spreading.”

With an initial diagnosis of cellulitis, another potentially serious bacterial infection, hospital staff called in doctors from facilities across the region to solve the mystery. After a series of blood tests and scans for broken bones or other causes for inflammation, doctors determined a streptococcus strain was eating his flesh from inside his body.

“The test results and cultures weren't going to be back within a day or two, but they had to deal with the symptoms immediately,” DiVittorio said. “Then, they showed me on a big screen what was happening to me. They said I had a deep infection that was eating my body away.”

Over the next two weeks in the hospital, several more weeks of in-home health care and months of physical therapy, DiVittorio learned about the disease that could have taken his limbs or his life. He read and saw television news stories about a woman in Colorado who was diagnosed around the same time.

Internet searches led him to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation, where he met fellow survivor Jim Fong of State College. Fong, a marketing consultant whose job took him all over the nation, experienced symptoms that surfaced on a business trip and landed him in the emergency room within 24 hours.

“We had similar experiences and could relate over this,” DiVittorio said. “It's something not many people understand.”

South Allegheny public relations coordinator Laura Thomson has been asking DiVittorio to share his experience with students and the public since his diagnosis.

“I've been telling him for two years to tell his story,” Thomson said. “I'm not a biologist, but I find this fascinating.”

Thomson and Wyler agreed that students can learn all they want about bacteria in their textbooks, but attaching a human element to the lesson is invaluable.

“There is a huge push in education for real-world application,” Wyler said. “To have someone local who survived this condition and can share this story is amazing.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.